MONKTON, Md--The coronavirus claimed another victim on April 15 when three time Maryland Hunt Cup winner Senior Senator died of colic at New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa.
If the spring steeplechase races had not been canceled because of the coronavirus, trainer Joseph G. Davies feels that Senior Senator would still be alive.
"Senior Senator was so hyper-sensative," said Davies. "This was the first time in seven years that his spring routine was broken."
"He has had bouts of colic in the past when he was not in training so we kept him in light training," said Davies. "But he was so used to running in the spring, the crescendo of training leading to racing. He was unsettled by the lack of hard training. I think with the worry and change in routine he was thrown off his system.
"THIS TIME, when I saw him in his stall, even though he was still standing, he seemed defeated, as brave and tough as he was. I think he knew. I took him to New Bolton. Blythe rode in the back with him. But he had already ruptured.
"We had such a lucky run with him, I can't be anything but grateful that we had him and that he had us," said Davies."
Senior Senator was indeed lucky that Blythe and Joe Davies got him and that amateur jockey Eric Poretz rode him.
While watching racing on her computer, Blythe noticed the bay racing in claiming races at Penn National, and, not knowing his history as a very bad actor, she claimed Senior Senator as a 3-year-old.
Senior Senator had a reputation for throwing both his exercise riders and jockeys, disrupting races on the way to the post and just generally being difficult.
The Davies ran him twice on the flat in 2013, where he finished sixth both at Timonium and Penn National.
Then in May of 2014, now owned by Irvin L. Crawford with Joe as trainer, Senior Senator, ridden by Gustav Dahl, started for the first time in a sanctioned race over fences at Fair Hill.
"There were countless times early on when, with one more instance of bad acting, I would have given up on him," said Davies. "At Fair Hill, it took me one hour to get the bridle on him in the trailer. Then he almost got Gustav off about five times on the way to the post."
Senior Senator made a bad mistake at the fifth fence and lost his rider at Fair Hill, and the next time he ran in a sanctioned race was at Genesee Valley in October, ridden by Poretz, where he finished second.
"I couldn't get a professional jockey to ride him after Fair Hill," said Davies.
Senior Senator won the maiden race at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup in November, then finished second in both the May Lady's Manor timber Stakes and the Grand National Timber Stakes in 2015.
In 2016, Davies started the schedule he followed for the next three years, beginning Senior Senator's spring with a run at Mr. Stewart's Cheshire Foxhounds Point-to-Point races, then going to the Grand National and the Maryland Hunt Cup.
Senior Senator led all the way and won by a nose over Grinding Speed.
"Senior Senator is the craziest horse that ever looked through a bridle," said Davies. "Poretz is the bravest kid. Senior Senator bucks all the way to the start. He freezes. But he loves to jump."
For a long time, Davies had to bridle and saddle Senior Senator in the trainer, then he graduated to saddling him a long way from the paddock, and finally was able to saddle him in the paddock.
"We were so lucky that things started to go right and that we persevered with this horse," said Davies.
Senior Senator won the Grand National in 2017, 2018 and 2019, and he won the Maryland Hunt Cup for the first time in 2016, and with the exception of 2017 when he fell at the third fence, breaking his neck, he won every race he went in after that.
"That was the most amazing thing, to come back from a broken neck and win the Hunt Cup twice with 11 screws and a plate in his neck," said Davies.
"There wasn't a single day when we didn't see him," said Davies. "I could even see him from our bed. While I was reading, I could just turn my head and see him poking his head out of his stall. He was so curious. He watched everything.
"He loved to jump. He jumped in and out of his paddock.
"If they'd run the Maryland Hunt Cup, and he had won, that would have been his fourth time winning it. No horse has ever won the Hunt Cup more than three times.
Maybe Senior Senator just thought, my owner and trainer never stopped wanting me to win,"said Davies." So maybe just out of respect for all those other horses that won three times, I'll just check out now."
Only eight horses had previously been able to win the Hunt Cup in it's 123 years, and Senior Senator's name now goes down with those illustrious names.
Gerry Owen won in 1901, 1902 and 1907, Princeton in 1903, 1905 and 1906, Blockade in 1938, 1939 and 1940, Winton in 1942, 1946 and 1947, (f40m 1943 to 1945, the race was canceled due to WW2) Pine Pep in 1949, 1950 and 1952, Mountain Dew in 1962, 1965 and 1967, finishing second the three times that Jay Trump won in 1963, 1964 and 1966, Cancottage in 1980, the first time a woman, Joy Slater, won, in 1981 and 1983